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Brittany trip, spring 2002

La Gacilly
Moored at la Gacilly

A one-week trip from the Crown Blue base at Messac, along the river Vilaine to Redon, and the canal du Nantes à Brest and river Oust as far as Josselin, returning the same way except for a side trip on the river Aff to la Gacilly. Total 233km and 36 locks.

The scenery is pretty but not spectacular, the food and drink excellent. The rivers are very wide in places, with channels marked by buoys or posts, but not difficult to navigate. The locks all have keepers and are nearly all mechanised and operated by a small remote control box. Good moorings were generally available, except at Josselin.

Locking is so easy that a boater brought up on English canals feels deprived of work. As you approach, if there's no sign of the lock being worked for you, you just sound your horn and wait. Once in, you have only to hand up your ropes, and even then it's easy, the keepers don't expect you to be able to throw, they lower a hook with which they pull up a loop of rope. Then you just sail out and wave.

There are gererally no lock cuts, or if there are they're short. Mostly the locks are in the stream at one side of the river with a long unguarded weir across the remainder of the width. The current's slow enough that this isn't a problem unless you have to hang around outside the lock, but we had an interesting experience at one of these. Our steering failed. There was a leak in the hydraulics, and it left us above one of these locks unable to steer. Fortunately our steerer got the boat into the side using forward and reverse only.

La Gacilly is worth the detour. It's a pretty little town with lots of craft workshops, and the river approach is also fun. The entrace to the Aff is a sort of nondescript creek over marshy ground branching out from a very wide dead-end section of the main river, marked only by red and green poles, but it soon turns into a sleepy little river meandering up to the town.

Diary extracts...

Fri 2002-04-26
Rain nearly all day. In two cars via tunnel to Coquelles. Found the hotel easily (Kyriad). It's fairly basic as intended but has a reasonable restaurant and some sort of bar.
Sat 2002-04-27
Reasonable breakfast, nearly all English in hotel, including several groups on a classic car rally (an old Porsche, an MGB V8 and an Austin Healey in the car park). Total tolls 20E80 per car (inc 5E for the Pont de Normandie). Away about 08h50. Sunny a bit to start, then dull, windy and sometimes wet. Lunch a snack at a service area just before Caen. Lots of new motorway inc the Pont de Normandie. Stop at a Carrefour outside Avranches for food, and arrive at boatyard 16h15. Hand over about 300E on the plastic for security waiver (75E), bike (27E), guide (20E), car parking (25Ex2) and hours deposit (140E). Not fuel, this boat charges by the hour on the engine meter. Condor #1, a big boat (12m8 * 3m6) with inside and on-top steering. Instruction including accompanying to the first lock; our request as so windy and unsure of procedure. Boat is not much narrower than the locks. Both locks worked by women with remote control box slung from shoulder. Down the two locks, then find somewhere to moor. It's dull and blowing a gale, so cold too. Start 17h15 and moor at Port de Roche at 19h. Turn and moor upstream neatly, but we didn't get the stern rope off in time so spun round in the wind and ended up pointing downstream. Short walk, then eat on boat. Boat has engine right inboard, accessed through a hatch in the rear cabin, diesel hot-air heating, engine hot water. Today 1+3/4h, 2l, 15.5km.
Sun 2002-04-28
Rain overnight and in the morning, but little during the day; some sunshine, and quite pleasant when there was no wind, which was not often. Start 09h45. Looking for water all day; lots of moorings marked as having water in the guide but we found none. Put a bit in with buckets and trying to hold the hose onto a drinking water tap at the eve moor. Rear loo flush water has stopped working. Upper station battery warning light came on, but not the lower station one and V>14V. Into Redon, round to the harbour, no moorings and the usual lock is closed for maintenance, so back round to the old lock which is being used pro tem. Fortunately it's open through lunch. Moor just beyond ("no mooring" signs but l'éclusier said OK) at 13h. Short walk in the town, then eat at a crêperie just by the mooring. On again 14h40 through the canal section of the Nantes à Brest onto the River Oust part, one lock then moor at Peillac at 17h. Eat on boat. Today 49km, 5h35m, 2l.
Mon 2002-04-29
Today 31.5km, 8l, 5.5h. Mostly warm and sunny apart from the wind, which did drop now and again, esp after lunch. All locks are manned and automated so far (except for the old one at Redon), and most worked by remote control, which around here is a small, pocketable thing. Few lock cuts, mostly locks are just on short by-passes to weirs. The keepers either see you coming or respond to a blast of the horn; there are generally no mooring places at locks. Despite boatyard assertion, you couldn't really moor anywhere except on landing stages or pontoons. Lunch stop at St-Laurent, 12h..14h. An 800m walk into the village; lunch at a bar/tabac/shop/restaurant; fixed menu at 9E including wine; bread; sausage and gherkin; cous-cous with egg; stuffed something with chips; tart or commercial desert; cheese; coffee. Also bought some beer. Moor at very scenic spot at Montertelot, just above the lock, looking back at the church, the lock and the weir. Walk back to the château de Crévy. By then sunny and still, with the air still cool. Moor at 17h. Eve eat on boat. Water 40 mins at le Gueslin included in the travel time; the tank was clearly nowhere near full when we started. The aft bog is now not flushing at all, but can use the shower head instead. It all goes over the side anyway.
Tue 2002-04-30
Dull, windy and later wet. Start 09h10. Through most of the locks with a French crew on another Crown Blue Line boat, handing out religious tracts and unwanted advice. The locks along this stretch are all manual and assisted with the gates at some. Moor at Josselin, breasted up to a trip boat, as most of the moorings are taken by unlet hire boats. Walk in town; lunch at le Hôtel de France (9E fixed menu) and stock up provisions and water. After a day's use and 3 hair-washings water took less than 5 mins. Taps under green plastic covers set into the moorings. Shops not open till 15h, and then wet and windy, so decided to stay here for the night. Enormous weir right by the lock. Today 13.5km, 6l, 3h. About 20h, after eat on boat. The sun came out for a bit and it stopped raining. A few pix then.
Wed 2002-05-01
Bank holiday in France. Dawn clear and bright, but cold. Walk in town; some photos in morning light. Off - but there's no steering. A lock ready and we can't get into it. Steerer trying to control the boat right next to a bloody great weir and no steering. Using the engine, got it back into the side, apologised to the lock keeper, who had come out in her nightdress and a coat, and rang the boatyard. That's about 09h10. The man comes to repair it at 10h20, and it took him until 12h30. The hydraulic pump behind the lower steering had a failed seal, and his spare had to be adapted to fit. Meanwhile the sun's gone and time for the locks is disappearing. Lunch in town (galettes and omelettes with cider), then off at last 14h, and the sun's back for a while. Most of these locks have unguarded weirs really amazingly close to the locks. At Guillac for example maybe only 3 or 4m from the lock entrance. As this is bank holiday, most locks are being worked by two or more people, presumably the family at home for the day. Downstream max-throttle is about 10.3km/h; we were doing 8 or 9 upstream, so quite a slow river. Finish at Malestroit, after lock and before bridge, at 17h45. Today 25km, 10 locks (plus 1 stop lock). Eat on boat, then a walk around the town; Malestroit has really pretty narrow streets with ancient buildings.
Thu 2002-05-02
A little rain, but mostly warm and sunny, esp aft. Into the town for bread, croisssants and supermarket supplies, then to the market, with lots of fresh sea-food, crabs and prawns still moving. Start 09h30. Water 11h20..11h40 at la Gueslin, then on to moor at Peillac again, 12h25..13h25, lunch on board. Warm enough for a beer on the top deck before lunch. Then aft through the last Oust lock and onto the Aff, a completely different river. It starts in a wide channel with path buoyed, then turns into a narrow snake through a marsh - if it weren't for the 6km/h speed limit sign and the red and green marker posts we'd not have believed this the way. It soon leaves the marsh and turns into a pretty little rural river for 9km to la Gacilly. Arr 15h40 and moor back-on to a rack of pontoons, mostly empty. Passed one boat leaving as we arr, and another Crown Blue boat has arrived since us. The navigable Aff ends here in a weir. A complete contrast to the wide Oust and wider Vilaine. Today 35.8km, 5l, 5h10m. Walk in the town, which is pretty, touristy, with lots of craft shops. Beer in the sun at a bar terrace. Eve to a Vietnamese restaurant in town. Chinese-like; meal served in a shallow bowl with a thick stem, on a plate, with rice in a separate bowl. Wooden chopsticks of the sort you have to split apart. Possibly the busiest place in the whole town, all of us plus three couples.
Fri 2002-05-03
A clear, cold night and a cloudless morning. Usual walk to town for bread and croisssants, then away 08h45. Getting quite warm at times. Through Redon, sharing the lock with a broken-down hire boat; a tug was waiting below the lock to take it away. Onto the Vilaine, and stop for lunch at Painfaut, sharing a pontoon with another Crown Blue boat, with a French crew. There seem to be quite a lot of natives on this river, unlike the Canal de Bourgogne and the Belgian canals. Lunch 12h20..13h15 on board. Then towards home on the wide Vilaine, mostly dry, some sunshine, but one torrential downpour when I was left outside steering and the others all hid inside. Moor for eve at Guipry port, just below the lock, by then warm and sunny. Moor at 16h45. Today 62km, 2l, 7h5m. Eve to a pizza restaurant. As last night, this seems the busiest restaurant in this smallish town, esp families with young children.
Sat 2002-05-04
Another clear morning, not so cold; mist rising over the weir and swirling over the river. To the local baker for our last fresh croissants. Final packing and cleaning. L'éclusier obviously knows what to expect, because just before 08h30 the bottom gates are left open, and we potter in just after and go up, and into the boatyard. Today 500m, 1l, 15m. Pay another 8E to make 148E total for the hours charge. Then the long drive back, getting home about 19h20. The 446MHz walkie-talkies were very useful between the cars on the journey.
     day    date      h      km     locks    steerer --      Water
     Sat    020427   1.75    15.5     2              N       
     Sun    020428   5.58    49       2      C       S       Peillac
     Mon    020429   5.50    31.5     8      K       R       le Guislin
     Tue    020430   3.00    13.5     6      NC      -       Josselin
     Wed    020501   3.75    25      10      -       C       -
     Thu    020502   5.17    36       5      S       K       le Guislin
     Fri    020503   7.08    62       2      R       N       -
     Sat    020504   0.25     0.5     1      C         
     Totals         33.08   233      36      
     Total included water time 60min, so cruising total 32h05m (ave 7.3km/h).
     Day     Lunch                           Evening
     Sat     -                               Port de Roche, on boat
     Sun     Redon, crêperie                 Peillac, on boat
     Mon     St-Laurent, bar/restaurant      Montertelot, on boat
     Tue     Josselin, Hôtel de France       Josselin, on boat
     Wed     Josselin, restaurant            Malestroit, on boat
     Thu     Peillac, on boat                la Gacilly, Vietnamese
     Fri     Painfaut, on boat               Guipry, pizza restaurant
     Sat     -
     Day     Notes
     Sat     -
     Sun     -
     Mon     -
     Tue     -
     Wed     Steering failed at Josselin.
     Thu     -
     Fri     -
     Sat     -
     Craft:    Condor 1, 12.8m * 3.66m.
     Boatyard: Crown Blue Line, Messac, France.

©nib 2003-02-02..2004-09-20

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